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Santos confident Portugal can handle play-off pressure

Fernando Santos is confident Portugal can handle the pressure of competing in the World Cup qualifying play-offs.

The Selecao face Turkey in the ‘Path C’ semi-finals in Porto on Thursday, with the winner of that tie set to take on Italy or North Macedonia next Tuesday.

Having lost 2-1 to Serbia in November, Portugal has had to do things the hard way, meaning they missed out on automatic qualification at their opponents’ expense.

However, Santos insists the winner-takes-all nature of this week’s play-offs can help get the best out of his players, having prevailed in two previous finals during his stewardship.

Santos said at Wednesday’s pre-match news conference:

“What has happened has always been a positive sign.

“In the two previous finals we’ve played, we won both.

“In these decisive games, we have responded positively, except in the last match [against Serbia]. Therefore, there’s no need to be concerned about the players because they have experience.

“We fought hard in those previous finals to make 11 million people happy. Tomorrow, in this next ‘final’, we want to do so again.”

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Portugal won Euro 2016 and the 2018-19 UEFA Nations League, beating France and the Netherlands in finals.

The European heavyweights have a big task on their hands to reach Qatar 2022, though, with Turkey and then potentially Italy awaiting over the next six days.

A failure to qualify for a major tournament for the first time since 1998 could cost Santos his job.

But the 67-year-old is not thinking about his future ahead of crucial games.

“That’s not the question,” said Santos, who has been in charge of the national team since 2014.

“What you’re asking me makes sense, but I’m focused on what we have to play for tomorrow, and we know what we have to do.

“The team is highly focused and motivated. We know that we are here because of our responsibility. We have to win to be in the World Cup.

“All our focus is on this game we have tomorrow against Turkey.”

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